Nick Kyrgios held his nerve to win an all-Aussie battle against fifth seed John Millman on Monday at the Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com, firing 19 aces to advance 6-4, 6-7(1), 7-6(3).
“My serve keeps me bailing me out of these types of matches, which is pretty fortunate for me,” said Kyrgios. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. John is one of the toughest competitors on tour and he’s a good mate of mine, so I’m just happy to get through with the win.”
Having lost their only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting in the first round of the 2017 US Open, Kyrgios proved eager to turn the tables. He opened the match with a break of serve and rode that slight advantage to take the first set. Both men held serve throughout the second set to force a tie-break, but Kyrgios double faulted to give Millman a 3/0 lead and the fifth seed forced a decider.
The final set featured 12 more routine service holds to bring another tie-break, but Kyrgios raised his level to control the baseline rallies and advance after two hours and four minutes. He’ll take on either 2015 champion Ivo Karlovic of Croatia or Radu Albot of Moldova in the next round.
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The opening match of the evening session saw wild card Lloyd Harris of South Africa earn the second ATP Tour main draw win of his career with a 7-6(1), 6-3 victory over qualifier Darian King of Barbados. Harris, who made his debut in the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings earlier this month, saved three set points on his serve at 4-5 in the opening set.
“I’m happy to get the win and thought I played pretty good tonight,” said Harris. “I’ve been playing my best tennis over the past six months and if I play well, I believe I can beat anyone.”
A single break in each set was all Lukas Lacko of Slovakia required to beat qualifier Yosuke Watanuki of Japan 6-4, 6-4. Next up for Lacko is the winner between second seed John Isner of the United States and Peter Polansky of Canada.
Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan defeated Feliciano Lopez 7-6(5), 6-2 for his first win over the Spaniard in their four FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings. Awaiting him in the next round will be the winner between eighth seed Adrian Mannarino of France and Brayden Schnur of Canada, last week’s runner-up at the New York Open (l. to Opelka).
Tiafoe On ’18 Delray Beach Title: ‘I Had No Expectations At All’
American opens title defence Tuesday against Evans
Entering the 2018 Delray Beach Open, Frances Tiafoe was No. 91 in the ATP Rankings. The American had made just one tour-level quarter-final, which came the previous week at the inaugural New York Open.
“I had no expectations at all,” Tiafoe said.
In the first round, Tiafoe faced Matthew Ebden, who defeated the American with the loss of just five games the month before. But the American hung tough after losing the second set against the Aussie to reach the second round in Delray Beach.
Next up was a daunting task: Tiafoe’s childhood idol and 2011 champion Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine had won both of their previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, including a straight-sets victory at the Australian Open just weeks before.
But Tiafoe summoned some of his best tennis, converting on his fourth match point to defeat Del Potro after two hours and 27 minutes in a three-set thriller. It was just his second victory against a Top 10 opponent.
“I was cool with the tournament after I beat Delpo, honestly. Could have lost in the next round and I really wouldn’t have cared,” Tiafoe said.
Perhaps more impressively, Tiafoe earned the respect of his idol, Del Potro. The ‘Tower of Tandil’ would go on to claim his first ATP Masters 1000 title at the BNP Paribas Open and climb to a career-best World No. 3 in August, so it took a lot for Tiafoe to beat him.
“Frances has everything to be in the top positions very soon. He has talent, the power to play long matches. [He has] the smart things to be playing in front of the top guys, also. I like to see him enjoying this sport,” Del Potro said on Monday. “I know he has a little bit of pressure on his back because the whole country is expecting too much of him. But he’s going to be a better player in a very short period because he’s already a good player for us and I would love to watch him playing finals and winning tournaments.”
“That was great,” Tiafoe said upon hearing of Del Potro’s encouraging words. “It’s still funny hitting with him and spending time with him. It’s good to see him back. He’s such a nice guy and anything he says, even saying hi to me, means a lot to me. I’m a huge fan.”
The tough part for Tiafoe was that, at that point, he was only in the quarter-finals. In the next two rounds, Tiafoe had to play then-reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Hyeon Chung and #NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov, both of whom were inside the World’s Top 50. What made it tougher was that due to rain on Friday evening, Tiafoe had to complete his quarter-final triumph against Chung on Saturday before returning later in the day to face Shapovalov.
“We were just taking it one step at a time and doing the best we could every day,” said Tiafoe’s coach, Zack Evenden. “We did a great job of that and it was a fairytale week.”
Tiafoe went on to beat German Peter Gojowczyk to lift his maiden ATP Tour title, becoming the youngest American to claim a tour-level trophy since a 19-year-old Andy Roddick at 2002 Houston. Tiafoe struck an ace down the T on championship point, then fell to his back in celebration.
“Complete relief, joy. That feeling, we’ve spoken about that a lot and that feeling, it’s going to be tough to replicate that. We didn’t expect it,” Evenden said. “We knew he was capable of big things, but him turning around the year that quick and in that fashion, beating the players he did that week, it was definitely overwhelming.”
“To win the event was pretty cool,” Tiafoe said. “I’m happy to have my first title here in South Florida where I spend so much time. Hopefully I can do it again.”
While Tiafoe was just inside the Top 100 when he arrived at Delray Beach last year, his return this season is a different story. Not only did he qualify for the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, but he is at a career-high No. 29 in the ATP Rankings, fresh off his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open. Tiafoe opens his title defence against Daniel Evans.
“I don’t feel any pressure this year, either. It’s kind of just another event I want to do well in. That’s where my head is right now. Obviously I gave myself a pretty good start [to the year], so there’s no real pressure,” Tiafoe said. “I’m just trying to get some momentum going for these next couple of weeks.”
Monday’s matches were a wash at the Rio Open presented by Claro, with all seven scheduled singles matches canceled due to rain in Rio de Janeiro.
Only two matches made it on court. Federico Delbonis of Argentina leads seventh seed Malek Jaziri of Tunisia 5-3 and Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain leads eighth seed Nicolas Jarry of Chile 4-3.
The top four seeds headline Tuesday’s schedule of play that features all 16 first-round matches. Top seed Dominic Thiem of Austria takes on Laslo Djere of Serbia in the evening session, followed by fourth seed and defending champion Diego Schwartzman of Argentina squaring off against 2016 champion Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.
Argentine returns from knee injury; begins campaign against Nishioka
After winning his first ATP Masters 1000 title last March at the BNP Paribas Open and climbing to a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 3 in August, Juan Martin del Potro was flying high. That was until October when he fractured his patella at the Rolex Shanghai Masters.
“[I was thinking] horrible things. I thought that was the final of my life. I got the fracture in the knee that I never expected to have,” Del Potro said. “After bad days I started believing in my doctors again that I’ll play tennis soon and I think I’m in a good way again to be competitive. After four months, I’m going to be playing a tournament, which is good [recovery] time. But I know how difficult it is to be ready for playing in the big events and holding the top positions in the [ATP] Rankings and I know this way because I had it in the past. But this is my life and I know how to deal with these problems.”
While it’s not a situation any player wants to deal with, Del Potro has recovered from worse positions. This week three years ago, the Argentine sat outside of the Top 1,000 of the ATP Rankings, falling as low as No. 1,045 the week of 8 February 2016. He underwent left wrist surgeries on 24 March 2014 (joint), 20 January 2015 (ligament) and 18 June 2015 (tendon), as well as right wrist surgery on 4 May 2010.
“I have the experience doing comebacks, but it’s not good for me and for other players. I know it takes time and then you have to be having enough confidence to move 100 per cent, to feel the body in good shape and then the tennis part comes,” Del Potro said. “First of all I have to be healthy, and then I will start to think about tennis. But Delray Beach is a good time to see how my knee works during a match and then we’ll decide where’s going to be next.”
Del Potro is not putting any special pressure on himself in his first tournament in four months. Instead, he is trying his best to enjoy the sport. The Argentine takes on Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round.
“I know how difficult it is to come back and play a tournament like this, but I’m ready for playing a match again,” Del Potro said. “I know I will need a little bit of time to get confidence in my body and my game. But I’m excited to be playing again so Delray Beach is a good tournament to start at.”
More than anything, Del Potro loves tennis. And while his most recent setback temporarily took that away from him, he is just as motivated as ever.
“I love to do this and I have luck that I have good friends and family who support what I want to do and that’s enough to keep trying, keep working hard to be a better player in the future and I’m still enjoying this life,” Del Potro said. “I had tough moments during my career, but when I never expected to reach my highest [ATP] Ranking ever, I did last year at 29 years old. For this year I would like to be healthy for the whole season and then keep surprising myself.”